Boehner Suggests New Tack on Lobbying

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), left, and the new majority leader, John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), sit down for a leadership meeting at the Capitol.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), left, and the new majority leader, John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), sit down for a leadership meeting at the Capitol. (By Jonathan Ernst -- Reuters)
By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 4, 2006

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has begun shifting his party toward an alternative lobbying reform package that stresses disclosure of lobbying contacts rather than the virtual ban on gifts and privately funded trips proposed last month by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

In an interview yesterday, Boehner emphasized that he has no plan to change lobbying rules and will not draft one until he can reach a broad consensus with House Republicans, possibly at a retreat on Maryland's Eastern Shore next week. But he was quick to say the proposals that Hastert and House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) put forward are not the Republican Conference's plan.

"We don't have a package," he said. "There are some ideas that the speaker and Mr. Dreier have put out. They are very good ideas. I know Mr. Dreier is working in a bipartisan way to refine those proposals, and until then it's a work in progress."

The lobbying plan is probably the first hurdle Boehner faces as he seeks to bring together a fractured Republican Conference and cope with a growing congressional corruption scandal. As a sign of the abrupt shift in leadership since Boehner was elected Thursday to succeed indicted Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) as majority leader, House leadership aides who helped draft Hastert's initial response said it will have to be pulled back.

"This is something we refer to as a false start," a senior aide said, acknowledging that Hastert and other leaders had backed the Republicans into a no-win situation. The leaders can either push forward with a plan most Republicans oppose, or they can scrap it and read that they backed off the toughest reform proposals.

"This is the problem the rank and file has with the leadership," the aide said. "They feel they don't get listened to. They get these knee-jerk reactions they don't like, but now that it's been rolled out, if we don't do it, we'll get criticism all over again. That makes them even angrier because they see it as self-inflicted."

Boehner's upset victory over acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) sprang in large part from Republicans' fears that they had to distance themselves from DeLay's leadership if they are to survive the midterm elections in November. The corruption scandals have already led Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) to plead guilty to bribery charges and resign, forced Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) to give up his committee chairmanship, and snared a guilty plea from former lobbyist Jack Abramoff -- and Republicans are scared.

In the closed-door electoral conclave Thursday, Rep. Mark Edward Souder (R-Ind.) summed up that trepidation when first he told the conference he feared retribution for what he was about to say, then continued: "Duke Cunningham, Jack Abramoff, and the ongoing and disgusting saga of abuse of power and public trust are not just made up by the Democrats," according to a transcript of the speech released by Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.). "Our entire philosophy is at risk because the American people, and even a large percentage of our own supporters think we have been corrupted."

That is not how Blunt saw it.

"The five or six people that will talk to the media about what bad shape we're in are not reflective of 225 of their colleagues," Blunt told the Associated Press yesterday.

"I don't want to say the media is to blame but . . . if you can find a story that focused on anything but change, you come and show it to me," he said.

The old leadership team's response to the scandal is already in for some changes.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company